Thursday, November 17, 2016

Album Review: Metallica - Hardwired...To Self-Destruct

The last eight years have not been kind to Metallica. After releasing an album that was botched by a humiliating production job that spurred protests, then releasing a movie that was a bomb, and an album with Lou Reed that has become internet shorthand for a disaster of epic proportions, Metallica has spent much of that time endlessly touring their songs from the 80s to make up for the horrible decisions they keep making. It's amazing to me that despite their success, they haven't managed to find anyone in their inner circle who can tell them when they're speeding down the wrong road. They must be surrounded by yes men, because that's the only explanation I can figure out.

This new record comes after eight years of doing everything but making new music, and arrives in the most infuriating way possible. This is a double album that doesn't need to be one. These seventy-seven minutes of music could easily fit on a single CD, but for the purposes of being able to double the number of sales when the Billboard numbers come out, it's split onto two discs. So not only do you have to stop and change discs for no reason as you listen, but the music you do hear follows the Metallica tradition; bloat.

Yes, these twelve tracks average out to over six minutes each, and with the opener only being three minutes long, that makes it very clear that the rest of the album is going to fall into Metallica's habit of writing songs that are too long for their own good. Often, we cycle through three to four different riffs just in the introduction, drawing the songs out for minutes before even hitting the crux of the song. That's fine if you're writing epic prog, but for a metal album like this, doing it on nearly every song is overkill.

Metallica needs an editor, and this album continually proves it. As we move from one mid-tempo song to the next, there is nothing approaching the needed diversity to stretch out over the course of two discs. Every song plays with similar dynamics, and with the exact same guitar tones, which turns the entire thing into a nearly eighty minute dirge.

There is some good material here, but there are two things to note about it; 1) It gets bogged down by the amount of lackluster tracks in between, and 2) Even the best moments here aren't as good as the best from "Death Magnetic". That album had the storytelling through sound of "The Day That Never Comes", the stomping groove of "Cyanide", and the best song they've written in decades, "All Nightmare Long". This album has none of that. The riffs are more forgettable, and the songs themselves more generic than before. If you asked what a Metallica album should sound like at this point, you would get exactly this.

And that's the problem.

Metallica sounds like they're giving us what they think we want, not what they themselves want to do. The way they defend "Lulu", it's clear they have artistic ambitions well beyond making simple heavy metal. So when that's what they deliver us, after this long, it's hard not to see it as pandering. I don't hear any sort of spark in the music, nothing to make me believe this is a passion for them. It sounds like Metallica going through the motions, and since I thought they were overrrated to begin with, that's nothing I'm going to be excited about.

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